Cominform Crisis, Soviet-Yugoslav Stand-Off, 1948-1954
Illustrators: David Bocquelet, Tom Cooper, and Peter Penev
Helion is a UK based company that produces books on many aspects of Military History from the Late Medieval period through to the present day. Helion was established in 1996, and since then they have published over 1,200 books, with 100 or more new titles coming out every year, for readers around the world.
Bojan Dimitrijevic is working as a historian and is Deputy Director of the Institute for Contemporary History, Belgrade, Serbia. Educated at the Universities of Belgrade and Novi Sad, CEU Budapest and the University of Bradford, he has also worked as the custodian of the Yugoslav Aviation Museum. During the period 2003-2009, Dimitrijevic served as advisor to the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the President of Serbia, and as Assistant to the Minister of Defense. He has published over 80 different books and more than 130 scientific articles in Serbia and abroad. His professional interest is in the military history of the former Yugoslavia and Balkans in World War Two, the Cold War as well as wars in the 1990s.
Helion’s latest book in the Europe @ War series is a square back soft cover includes 98 gloss paper pages. The cover black and white photograph features a captured German late model Hanomag Sd. Kfz. 251 Pak Wagen with a 38mm gun nicknamed “Tito” leading a parade. This was taken during the Sumadija maneuvers during September 1949. The color side profile of a Yak-3 is by Tom Cooper. This aircraft was an air display bird with the top and sides painted red with a light blue bottom. The eagle and lighting bolt in white down the side of the fuselage was the symbol of the Hungarian Ikarus Works. The spinner is white with a red star at its center. The rear cover features a color side profile by David Bocquelet of a Yugoslav manufactured tank called Vozilo A. This was Yugoslavia’s version of the T-34/85. The markings are as photographed during the 1950 May Day Parade in Belgrade. The turret inscription reads in part “Tito – CK” where CK stood for the Central Committee of the Yugoslavia Communist Party. I counted 8 color pictures and 153 black and white photographs. There also seven color side aircraft profiles by Tom Cooper and two by Peter Penev. David Bocquelet contributes six color side AFV profiles. You will also find one black and white map and one-color map.
Cominform was the Information Bureau of the Communist and Workers’ Parties that was designed to replace Communist International [Comintern]. Communist International was founded in 1919 to advocate world communism and held seven World Congresses between 1919 and 1935. Joseph Stalin dissolved Communist International in 1943 to reduce antagonizing his World War II Allie. Cominform came into being in 1947 with nine members, primarily to oppose the Marshall Plan Paris Conference on 1947. Its purpose was to coordinate European communist parties through its primary product, a newspaper called “For Lasting Peace, For People’s Democracy”. Cominform was initially located in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, but after Stalin and Tito split over Tito’s resistance to Soviet domination of communism, it was moved to Bucharest, Romania and Yugoslavia was deemed a heretical nation. This led to open conflict within the communist world between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, starting in 1948 and lasting until just after Stalin’s death in 1953. Perhaps the biggest issue between Stalin and Tito was the violation of the “Percentages Agreement” between the UK and the Soviet Union. This involved Tito’s support of the Greek communist party during the Greek Civil War and his decision to place Yugoslavian troops in Albania.
Bojan Dimitrijevic kicks this tome off with the transition facing Yugoslavia from World War II to peacetime. Yugoslavia was looking forward to receiving equipment and training from the Soviet Union, but cracks soon appeared. Yugoslavia was managing their transition with captured German equipment, supplemented with Soviet and Allied weapons. Page 8 shows off this with three photographs. The top of the page depicts a Soviet T-34 tank, but visible in the background are Hetzers, SU-76, and Bren / Universal carriers. The middle photograph highlights a German Jagdpanzer 38 (t) Hetzer tank destroyer. The Stuart tank at the bottom of the page has been heavily modified with the addition of a German PAK 75mm anti-tank gun.
Additional aircraft and military vehicles found their way to Yugoslavia early on with enhanced cooperation between the Soviet communist satellite states of Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. An example of this is the top photograph on Page 28 where 59 Messerschmitt Me 109G fighters were obtained from Bulgaria. The bottom two pictures depict the good relations between Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia before the Cominform Crisis. The Soviets even provided their most advanced fighter, the Yak-9P in early 1948 before the breakup between Tito and Stalin. After the break from the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia’s Ikarus Works rushed a home designed fighter, the S-49, into production in late 1949. This aircraft is displayed as the top color profile on Page 44v. The middle color side profile is of a Hungarian Air Force MiG-15. The pilot of this aircraft “lost his way” and landed in Yugoslavia. Slightly damaged when it landed, the Yugoslavs repaired the undercarriage and wing and proceeded to test fly the aircraft prior to allowing the USAF to evaluate it. The lower color side profile shows off a Romanian Yak-23 that also “got lost” and landed in Yugoslavia. The pilot was returned to Romania, but the Yak-23 was thoroughly evaluated by both the Yugoslavian Air Force and the USAF. Page 52 depicts an Aero-2 aircraft being repainted in a yellow paint scheme. The bottom of the page shows an ex-RAF Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vc at Pancevo airfield in south Banat.
The political situation continued to deteriorate as Yugoslavia saw more and more border incidents. If Yugoslavia’s communist brothers along their border had more offensive assets, it probably would have gotten more serious, but Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary were stocked primarily with defensive assets. There were still plenty of hostile actions with attacks along the border. Barbed wire and border posts were installed. Border patrols were increased and to accommodate field of vision, border communities were flattened to provide better sight lines. Cursing, especially along national identification or the mothers of the military personnel was common. Seemingly random firing, from both rifles and machine guns were commonplace. Activities escalated to attacks on opposing border posts. Yugoslavia also decided to reorganize their military, since Russia was intimately familiar on how it operated. The Yugoslavian army especially struggled with reorganization as they dealt with regional differences within their troops. The Yugoslavian military schools also faced numerous issues as they shifted away from the Soviet Union method of training officers to one that focused on integrating Yugoslavian views and culture. Another major shift was the building of an indigenous military industry to support the Army, Navy and Air Force.
1951 saw the US State Department beginning to see the opportunity that the Coniform Crisis presented and began having talks with Yugoslavia. A Mutual Assistance Pact was signed by November 1951 which opened Yugoslavia to ordering military equipment from the US, France, and the UK. Yugoslavia ordered prolifically, bringing in rifles, machine guns, and bazookas, in addition to military support vehicles. WWII Surplus Republic P-47D Thunderbolts and de Havilland Mosquitos. The first jets reached Yugoslavia in 1953 with Lockheed T-33 trainers and Republic F-84G Thunderjets as can be seen on Page 69. The Coniform Crisis started winding down after Stalin’s death, but it was not immediate. The Korean War also had an impact as the world turned their attention to that battle between communism and capitalism. The sections include:
- Tito’s Partisan Army Goes Into Peacetime
- Demobilization as the Prerequisite for Peace Development
- Communist Ideology: ‘Army – Forget of New Men’
- Commanding Cadres: Partisans and ‘Former’ Officers
- Peacetime Organization of the Yugoslav Army [Page 08]
- Armament and Equipment
- Security and Intelligence Services
- The Sovietisation of the Yugoslav Army
- Deliveries of Soviet Weaponry 1944 – 1948
- Soviet Advisors in the Yugoslav Army
- Yugoslav Personnel in Soviet Military Schools and Centres
- Cooperation with the Peoples’s Democracy Armies
- Assistance to the Albanian Army
- Support to the Greek Communist Army
- Cooperation with ‘Slavic’ Armies [Page 28]
- Into the Conflict - 1948
- The Challenges of 1948: Misunderstanding and Break Up
- The Cominform Resolution and the Breaking of Military Relations
- Combating ‘The Interior Enemy’ in Army Ranks
- Clashes on the Borders and Yugoslav Defense Preparations
- Yugoslav Defense Planning
- Was the Possible Aggression a Real Threat?
- Clashes on the Borders
- Casualties in 1948 – 1951 [Table]
- Air Incidents
- The Intelligence War in the Borderlands
- Color Profiles [Page 44v]
- The Yugoslav Army Under Pressure
- Continuous Yugoslav Army Reorganizations [Page 52]
- Adapting Military Schools to New Circumstances
- Educated Officers in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union 1944 – 1948 [Table]
- Technical Problems Influence Combat Readiness
- The Building of an Indigenous Military Industry
- Types of Armaments Produced
- First Fleet Programme – Revised 1948 – 1952 [Table]
- To the End of the Crisis
- Yugoslavia Sides with West
- Yugoslav Army Joins the Mutual Defense Aid Programme [Page 69]
- The Balkan Pact
- Border Incidents Continued in 1953
- ‘Lost’ Soviet Jets in Yugoslavia
- Further Organizational Changes
- Towards the End of the Cominform Crisis
- Tito’s Partisan Army Goes Into Peacetime
- Appendix: Yugoslav Army Order of Battle, Late 1950
This book was quite enlightening to the immediate post World War II in Europe and is a companion volume to the Trieste Crisis 1953. Indeed, the first volume in the Europe @ War series was by Bojan Dimitrijevic – see my review on the IPMS USA Review web site. The contemporary photographs support the text, and certainly give you a good perspective of the events described. The nice color illustrations by David Bocquelet, Tom Cooper, and Peter Penev help support the armor and aircraft. If you own one of the previous releases in the Europe @ War series, you know what you are getting. If this is your initial entry into this series, you will be quite pleased.
My thanks to Helion & Company, Casemate Publishing, and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.